“I’m not afraid of the dead or the dying. It just don’t suit me to look at them.”
“completely creative loving...the supreme thing in all living.”
—misquote from Gertrude Stein,
The Making of Americans
This month I’d like to finish up with my listening experiences in Paris and talk about some of what I’ve managed to hear since returning to Appletown. So here is my last bi-polar report between Paris and New York. And I promise, no intellectualizing this time.
The great crossover French double-bassist Jöelle Léandre—a complete musician in every sense, capable of playing everything from Cage and Scelsi to Satie, Ellington, free jazz, swing, and pure improv, along with some unique vocal techniques—is celebrating her 60th year with 60 concerts across France. Léandre approaches her music with gentleness, sensitivity, intelligence, and ferocity, but never with fear. She is completely at one with her instrument. The first two French gigs, which were held in late January as part of Sons d’Hiver, featured the Stone Quartet (Léandre, Roy Campbell, Matt Maneri, and Marilyn Crispell) and a duo with Matt Maneri, along with a new bilingual documentary titled Basse Continue. Directed by Christine Baudillon, the film includes many insightful comments by Léandre and virtuoso performances with Anthony Braxton, Daunik Lazro (himself the subject of a new film by Baudillon), George Lewis, Assif Tsahar, and Barre Phillips, among others. The birthday celebration will also include gigs with Braxton, Irene Schweizer, Jaap Blonk, Fred Frith, Alvin Curran, Carlos Zingaro, and Paul Lovens, and numerous workshops by Léandre. Léandre’s latest recorded effort, Before After (Rogue Art), features the boundary-breaking flautist and AACM Chicago co-president Nicole Mitchell (who was in Paris while I was there, and whom I got to talk with as well as hear play) and Dylan van der Schyff on drums and percussion. Look for Jöelle in New York in mid-June, when she will be here for a couple of days following a 10-day tour of America and Canada.
As I mentioned last time, I missed the Patti Smith gigs in Paris, but my friend Bonny did manage to cop a free ticket from her friend, who is a close friend of Lenny Kaye. So if you will, dear reader, turn your attention to her article in this very paper about that event. While I was still away I also heard that Patti and Lenny Kaye did some great stuff at the Poetry Project for their 40th anniversary as a team.
The Charles Gayle Trio played two awesome sets at Paris’s Sunside Club in late January. There was no guest list, so even I paid for that one. Both sets consisted of monstrous tenor playing and relaxed lyrical piano, the first Ayleresque and the second more like late Trane. Gayle’s piano work consisted of bits of Debussy, a warm amazing “Naima,” a Monkish segment, a lot of gospel and—speaking of amazing—an amazing version of “Amazing Grace.” When the night was over, Gayle concluded by saying how much he loved Paris, and though he knew not everyone in the audience believed in God, “May God bless you all.”
Lol Coxhill, Steve Noble, and John Edwards played Instants Chavirés, the best club for improvised music in Paris, the same night that Nu Band (Roy Campbell, Joe Fonda, Mark Whitecage, Lou Grassi) made a live recording for Marge Records, also at the Sunset/Sunside. I sacrificed the former for two reasons: The folks in Nu Band are all buddies of mine from New York, and I was assigned to write the liner notes for the CD that was being recorded. So obsessive me went the second night to Instants, after catching most of a boring but somewhat enlightening lecture by Greg Tate and Graham Haynes on electric Miles focusing mainly on Bitches Brew, and saw Coxhill play duo with master French soprano saxist Michel Doneda. Once again I paid hard cash, and you all know that our wimpy dollar is no match for the mighty euro. But the two played five superb duo dialogues and one solo piece each, and both were sonically and technically incredible. My ears were treated to a feast of everything from water to wind to sheets of swirling fires as the duo continuously strove to be adventurous and innovative. Coxhill, who turns 79 this year, has been in ill health, and I advise anyone who hasn’t heard him to check out this master live or on CD. He still performs extensively in London.
I had to miss Haynes’s Paris concert Bitches Brew Revisited, which I caught last year in New York, because I had a gig myself, but I did catch some of Tate’s Burnt Sugar homage to Miles on the same bill as Melvin Van Peebles. I will reserve comment, or rather plead the fifth, on that show, though Melvin is always refreshing.
The Digital Primitives (Cooper-Moore, Assif Tsahar, and Chad Taylor) gave one of their best efforts in a cave three flights below ground in the Barbès section of Paris. The trio played everything from blues to free, with Tsahar turning in an exquisite “Over the Rainbow,” the best rendering of that tune I’ve heard since Sunny Murray’s version on the Wildflowers series. Cooper-Moore played his homemade instruments and flute, and Taylor kept it all together on drums. C.M. played the warm “Prayer Two” on flute for David S. Ware, whose new CD on AUM Fidelity will be out soon. That recording will feature Cooper-Moore, William Parker, and the legendary Muhammed Ali, who has, since the death of his brother Rashied, come back out on the scene and is playing as well as ever.
Before coming home, I also caught some exciting sets by Wadada Leo Smith with “Baby” Sommer, Steve Coleman’s Five Elements (not one of my favorites), Alan Silva, Sylvain Kassap, Abdelhai Bennani, Benjamin Duboc, Jobic Le Masson, Sylvain Guerniau, Oki Itaru, and Makoto Sato, to name a few. A lot of stuff in five short weeks. I also caught the Steve Kuhn Trio with Joey Baron doing a high-end set at the high-end Paris club Duc des Lombards.
Paris has more and more small, semi-private venues where artists are invited to play or give readings. They are very important in keeping the scene alive, and in a way harken back to the salon days, but without all that elitism. One such enterprise is called Jazz at Home, which presents gigs in a lovely apartment in Montmartre with a view of Sacré-Coeur. If the apartment is not available, organizer Bertrand Gastaut will always find another suitable venue, like that cave three stories beneath the earth.
One of the highlights of my last trip was Matthew Shipp’s postmodern solo gig at Sons d’ Hiver. But here’s the rub: It got one woman so freaked out she wrote him a Facebook message stating how dark and negative his music was. She claimed to be a pianist and said she understood why Shipp was a genius, but she felt he was an egotist filled with rage. At the performance she pleaded for him to stop and left the concert hall shaking, stuck, as she put it, in a nightmare, furious and feeling mean. Shipp replied, “Check yerself out, baby—you must be disturbed to begin with.” Shipp’s trio will be playing Le Poisson Rouge March 7 opposite Other People Do the Killing. Should be a great double-bill.
Ken Vandermark, Paul Lytton, and violinist Philipp Wachsmann also played at Instants a couple of days before I left. I ran there to catch their first set, then ran across town to do my own final gig in Paris, for which I showed up late. If you’re a fan like I am, you can catch both of them playing in New York this month at the Stone and then Lytton in various configurations at the Stone, Roulette, and ISSUE Project Room. The one at ISSUE is part of a full night of Chris Corsano and friends.
On March 3 – 5 at Chen Dance Center on Mulberry St., the fiercely independent Nancy Zendora will present new pieces with her dance company. The music will consist of a solo cello piece by José Luis Greco from Spain, son of famed dancer José Greco. Mike Fisher will play didgeridoo and use ambient sounds of water in a piece titled “Landscape with Visitors,” and there’ll be works with traditional Korean instruments and music by the Kronos Quartet and a female Azerbaijan composer. I know Zendora’s work, and I’m sure these will be very varied evenings of sound and movement.
Elliott Sharp celebrates his 60th birthday this month with an evening of concerts and cocktails at the new ISSUE Project Room space. The evening will include solo, string quartet, and Steve Buscemi. The show is a benefit, with all proceeds going to ISSUE.
I dedicate this installment to the ever-changing, never-flagging-or-selling-out, one-of-a-kind maestro Cecil Taylor, who turns 82 this month, and I thank him for all the years of inspiration he has provided me since the age of 15. So keep listening for what comes before after and after before, all those voices rising to the top as one voice.